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CD Review

Paul Paray Conducts French Music

* Wayne State University Women's Glee Club
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray
Mercury Living Presence 434306-2
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This disc along with Mercury 475626-2 and 434343-2 form all of Paul Paray's currently available Debussy and Ravel recordings with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. ArkivMusic has brought a great deal of Paray back to active circulation via its ArkivCD reissue program, and thankfully included these vintage "French" performances. They simply don't sound like anyone else.

In the Nocturnes, there's no fuzziness or languishing about. The opening movement is taken at the same general speed as Boulez in Cleveland, but listen to how much more tangy the Detroit winds are! Mind you, Boulez is a reference in this music any way you slice it (and the Cleveland strings are far superior), but Paray really makes this music jump off the page. The rest of the work goes just as well – and is just as vivid – though some may find Paray's tempo for Sirènes too quick and the women of Wayne State unappealing. I think the whole affair is very refreshing. In the Petite Suite, there are similar values, with the urgently flowing tempos and extremely colorful playing ending the disc on a decided high point, save for some scruffy string playing.

Working backwards, the Ravel works that open the disc are just about perfect. The Daphnis and Chloé Suite shows noticeable improvement in the Detroit ranks, with no loss of atmosphere or feeling for the music. Paray was probably one of the finest Ravel conductors to ever mount a podium; his Boléro uncovers amazing detail at unusually high speeds. If you care at all about French music, you need the entire series, but this is as good a place as any to begin.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman